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More on That Free Magazine Idea - and Food for Thought...

I recently posted something in the Inner Circle Writers’ Group on Facebook to do with an idea that I had had. Here’s the original post:


A new e-magazine, monthly or bi-monthly, to do with art, culture, travel, metaphysics, writing and so on, with an emphasis on uplifting readers' spirits...

LOTS AND LOTS of submission opportunities for fiction (short stories, flash fiction, continuing tales) and poetry as well as visual art...


COMPLETELY FREE to download, accessible to all members of this group, paid for through advertising sales...

  1. Would you be interested in reading it?

  2. Would you be interested in contributing to it?

  3. Would you advertise in it? (Your ads would reach the focused readership of the members of the ICWG, approaching 8,000 now - and the rates would be cheap, £20.00 for a full page. I'd even help you design an effective ad for your book, books, services or other business.)

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I look forward to your feedback.

Dozens of people responded, 99% of them favourably, to the notion. A free magazine full of positivity is an easy idea to garner support for, I suppose. But actually producing the magazine — like actually producing anything — runs into practicalities.

The first of these is Personnel. Clarendon House Publications is just me — I read, proofread, edit, compile, format and release dozens of books and twelve issues of a monthly magazine every year, all from my laptop in my armchair here on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. I do all this out of love, but, like anyone, I also need to pay bills — so what I do needs to earn some money. The way that this new magazine would work would be through paid advertising — there would need to be enough money coming in from that each month for me to be able to continue to produce it.

Let’s look at the finances, another practicality.

If, for example, I charged £20.00 ($US26.00) for a full page, full colour ad - which is, by the way, a remarkably cheap rate — then ideally I would need 30 people to sign up to the deal on a recurring basis. That would yield £600.00 a month, which would be enough to pay me for 50 hours of work at £12.00 an hour. £12.00 an hour is a low rate for the kind of expertise needed to put a magazine together, but I could settle for that as I would enjoy the work.

However, you see the flaw in the plan: it’s highly unlikely that 30 people will pay £20.00 a month each month, on an ongoing basis, especially to place an ad in a new magazine with an as-yet-undetermined readership. It’s more likely that two or three people will buy an ad for one month and then — misunderstanding the nature of marketing as most people do — cancel the ad having seen ‘no results’. That would then lock me into producing a monthly magazine for only £60.00, with the second month paying nothing…

One idea to try to get people to commit to longer term advertising would be to offer an even greater discount if an ad is booked in for longer — say, for example, a ‘package deal’ of 12 ads for a cut-price £180.00, which works out to £15.00 a month. On paper, that looks good: the offer might attract, say, six people to commit. That would yield £1,080.00 over a year. But you see the difficulty: that works out to be only £90.00 a month — still an unviable figure for the amount of work involved. I’d be working for only £1.80 per hour.

Love only goes so far, at least in the workaday world.

But in talking straight away about finances, we’ve missed a step: the marketing step. To get people to commit to advertising, short or long term, the magazine would have to have a strong appeal as a sales venue: they would need to be convinced, in other words, that the money they were spending was going to be worth it.

In my book Crack Your Marketing I outline a successful method of marketing for writers — a sequence of actions which will virtually guarantee them some sales of their work, provided that the work is of reasonable quality. This method involves zero expenditure on paid advertising, though it does require a little time and energy on the writer’s part. One of the key elements of the methodology is to track down exactly who the right audience is for a work, and where to find them. (This turns out to be not all that difficult, if you follow the advice in the book.) So in talking about this new magazine and acquiring paid advertising for it, let’s apply that same principle.

Who is the right group of people to approach to get paid advertising?

That question opens up a whole vista of further questions — but in so doing, it also opens the door to some interesting answers, and not the answers you’re probably thinking of.

Paid advertising is largely based on a false notion, a notion addressed at some length in my marketing book: it’s the notion that ‘the number of sales is dependent upon the number of people who see an ad’.

This notion is so horribly wrong, and yet so widely accepted and convincing.

Why is it so wrong? Even now, having just read it, many of you will be thinking ‘That makes perfect sense…’ It’s a notion that has been used by those selling ad space for decades — or by anyone marketing anything since the early 20th century.

It’s false.

The correct datum is in my book, but I’ll give you a slight hint here:

Sales depend on the depth of interest in an audience, not the size of that audience.

You could have an audience of ten people, all of whom are highly interested in a product, and you would have a high likelihood of sales; or you could have an audience of a thousand people who were utterly indifferent to a product, and you would have no sales. Of course, if you can find a thousand highly interested people, you have it made — but you don’t do that very effectively through mass advertising, and you can actually drive more people away than you attract by blasting out mass ads all over the place.

The trick is to find that highly motivated audience — and that isn’t done by wasting money on mass advertising, or at least it’s not done efficiently. Spend enough money and you will occasionally find one or two of those interested people, but in the meantime you might have wasted hundreds or thousands of pounds and many, many hours.

It’s the difference between having to hunt for food — or growing your own.

One false way of trying to sell the idea of paying for advertising in this new magazine, then, might be to say ‘Look at all the people who will see your ad! Because the magazine is free, it can be widely distributed everywhere, beyond the confines of Facebook! Any ad placed inside could be seen by thousands of people, perhaps even many, many more!’

It’s a standard line put out by those trying to sell paid ads, isn’t it?

It’s also the underpinning idea which leads to people pulling their ads after one or two issues, based on ‘no results’ — the argument being that ‘The ad failed because not enough people saw it’.

It’s such a powerful idea, though, that even now many of you won’t be convinced. You’ll still be thinking of how to reach more potential readers rather than the right readers.

To sell advertising in the new magazine, then, what I should be saying is not ‘Look at all the potential readers!’ but ‘Look at the readers who are strongly interested in what you have to offer!

And the immediate consequence of that statement is to reduce the number of potential buyers of advertising in the magazine, isn’t it? Because many people who might have been thinking about it in terms of the size of its audience will rapidly conclude that the magazine won’t actually reach many people who will be very interested in what they are offering.

If you’ve written a cracking science fiction novel and want to get sales, your first instinct will be to go for vast numbers of ‘eyes’ — but your most successful and efficient action would be to go for fewer eyes, but more interested eyes. It’s not all that likely that a magazine featuring art, culture, travel, metaphysics, writing and so on, with an emphasis on uplifting readers' spirits, is going to particularly appeal to science fiction readers. Yes, there might be some, a handful maybe — but not enough to justify the ongoing expense.

So I have just lost a whole bunch of potential advertisers for the magazine, because many will recognise, quite rightly, that their book is not likely to appeal to its readership.

But let’s flip this around: who would be most likely to read a magazine about art, culture, travel, metaphysics, writing and so on? Especially one with an emphasis on uplifting readers' spirits?

Well, those who are interested in art, culture, travel, metaphysics, writing and so forth — and those who want their spirits uplifted.

So the right question for anyone contemplating paying out money for ongoing advertising in such a magazine is this: ‘Is what I am offering likely to have a strong appeal for such readers?’

If the answer is No, then even if the readership were to grow to hundreds of thousands, the right thing to do is not place an ad in its pages. You don’t want numbers; you want depth of interest.

If, however, you think that what you are offering might well be attractive to such a readership, then place an ad.

Don’t just place it for one month and then claim that it was ineffective — that’s based on the same kind of impatience as the rest of the ‘numbers marketing’ game. In today’s information-saturated age, a piece of data like an ad has to appear at least 10 times in front of someone for its content to even register, studies have shown. So take advantage of a bulk offer and place an ad for a year — but only if you are convinced that the readership of the magazine is going to be interested in your product. If you’re right, you will have effectively and efficiently ‘bought’ sales; if you’re wrong, it won’t be because you were ‘shouting from the rooftops’ at an uninterested audience, but perhaps only because you hadn’t narrowed down your audience accurately enough, or your ad didn’t communicate well enough what you were about.

Give it some thought.

An audience who will read the magazine because they are interested in art, culture, travel, metaphysics, writing and so on, with an emphasis on uplifting readers' spirits — is that potentially your audience too?

And if it is, then the fact that as a free magazine it then has the potential to reach quite a few of that correct audience starts to really mean something.

If you’re selling a book from which you expect to make a £3.00 profit per copy, for example, you would need to sell 60 copies over a year to break even, and so ideally more like 100 copies a year to make it really worthwhile. You would have made a £120.00 profit — and reached an audience of warm prospects who might start doing some word-of mouth marketing for you too. But you’ll only sell 100 copies if your book is of great appeal to that selected readership.

The new target for me, then, would be to persuade 40 people to get the long-term ad offer of £180.00 for 12 months. That would yield viable funds for me to produce the magazine over a year. But to get those 40 people, my first step might be to turn away 100 others who might be considering buying in terms of size of audience, and instead get a smaller number of potential buyers to focus on what it is that they are selling, and to work out to whom would that appeal.

Does your work have a literary/cultural/artistic appeal? Is it related to travel? Does it have anything to do with metaphysics? Is it aimed at uplifting the spirit? If you answered ‘Yes’ to those questions, consider the £180.00 investment to reach a motivated and interested audience and so get sales; if you answered ‘No’, don’t bother — you’d be wasting your money.

Let me know your thoughts.


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